There was still light in the room when the eternal bombing finally stopped. Most lights had gone out, but a few houselights survived, shining a slightly amber glow into the air that was filled with heavy grey dust. The air smelled like a mix of concrete and a stronger version of the mixed alcohol ambiance at liquor stores.
No one moved for a long time after the bombing had ended. Not that staying where they were was particularly safer than anywhere else, but they had been locked in fear for so long, it wasn't an easy transition to any other feeling. Ryouji was the first to stand up, having the least shelter where he was anyway. Watching him stand, others started to follow suit. Somehow the act of standing together felt like they had made it through, even though no one could say whether or not more bombing might come.
千恵子、大丈夫？"Chieko, are you okay?" Mari asked, seeing that Chieko was holding her hand to one ear, and there was blood trickling down her neck.
大丈夫、ちょっと怪我しただけ。"I'm fine. Fortunately, it was just a small cut."
バーに、救急箱がある。包帯を探すよ"There's a first aid kit in the bar. I'll look for some bandages," Ryouji said. He stepped around the back the bar, stepping carefully around the mass of broken bottles and cups on the floor.
すごい…"Wow..." Ana said. Everyone turned to see what she was talking about, and took in the state of the back of the room, where the dance floor was. One corner where the walls met the ceiling was collapsed inward, revealing a structural beam that had been shifted from its horizontal position and now sat at an an odd angle. It looked like the weight of the building, if there was still a building above them, might be pushing the beam downward, and it partially blocked the entrance way into a small alcove that led to a doorway.
あれは、トイレですよね。"That's where the toilet is, isn't it?" Noriko asked.
え、そうだけど。"Yeah, that's right," Ryouji said, looking up for a moment from the shelves behind the bar where he was searching.
ちょっと、行きたかったの。ね、安心だと思う…？"I kind of needed to go. Do you think it's safe?" Noriko asked.
いくな。壁が崩れるかも知れない。"It's better not to. The walls could collapse," Tanaka San said. Noriko sighed a little, and reached down to pick up one of the stools, all of which had been knocked over. As she picked it up, Tanaka San took it to set it up for her, which she acquiesced to, but she didn't really want his help. She patted away the dust with her hand and sat down, settling in to wait for... what, she didn't know, but at some point she was going to have to risk heading to the bathroom, unless something about the situation changed.
Yuusuke picked up the laptop that had fallen to the ground.
電力は？"Does it have power?" Mari asked. Yuusuke put it on the table they had been hiding under and held the power button. It started to boot up, and Mari was momentarily relieved, but just as quickly she realized that there was a good chance that the internet connection would be down. Thinking along the same lines, Yuusuke went to the television and, hopping up onto the bar so he could reach, tried pressing the power button. There was no response.
必要がれば、ヒューズボックスは後ろにある、トイレの近く。"If you need it, the fuse box is in the back, near the toilet," Ryouji said. As he spoke, he stood up where he was behind the bar holding a small white box with a red cross on it. He set it on the bar top to open it, similar to how one opens a briefcase. While he pulled out bandages and disinfectant, Chieko came over, supported as she walked by Rie and Ana. Although her shoulder was stiff, Chieko wasn't injured in any way that affected her ability to walk, but she was happy to have her friends holding on to her.
分かった…あっ、これかな…"Okay... Oh, maybe this..." Yuusuke found a disconnected wire behind the screen and plugged it back in. Pressing the power button again, the television came on. He jumped down off the bar and took a step back as the screen came to life. When it did, it showed a blue screen with white text that simply said, in English, "No signal." Yuusuke looked around for the remote and quickly found it in on the floor in the dust not far from the tables they had all sheltered under. He experimented with different buttons, some of which changed the input feed, but after every flicker to black and back again, the result was the same. "No signal."
これも、ダメ。"This is out, too." Mari was having a similar experience with the laptop. The wifi icon in the top right of the screen occasionally cycled as it searched for a signal, but mostly it sat idol, greyed out to indicate it was inactive. Everyone soon confirmed the same situation with their phones. No one was getting any signal of any kind anymore.
やっぱり、アンテナが壊れたのかな。でも電気があるのはラッキーだ。"The cell towers been destroyed, no surprise. We're lucky to have power," Yuusuke said. For a moment, everyone glanced up at the few lights still on. The room was much darker now, closer to a world where lights weren't something you just assumed to be there.
これからどうしよう…？"What now...?" Ana said. Ana had one hand on Chieko's good shoulder, as if somehow it lent tangible support to Rie, who was doing the actual work of bandaging Chieko's ear. Ana was facing outward to everyone, and her question was directed at anyone who might have an answer.
この建物がいつ崩れるかわからない。ここは安全でないから、出たほうがいいんじゃないか？"This building could collapse anytime. It's unsafe here, so, isn't it better to leave?" Tanaka San said. His question was more like a proposal, looking more for support than a response. He didn't get either, as everyone only had pensive silence to offer. Everyone knew he was right, the building could cave in on them. Especially if another round of bombing came by. Outside, though, was now a complete mystery. There was no question that it was still dangerous, but now there was no way of knowing what kind of danger.
もし、田中さんが、外に行きたければ…"I suppose if you want to go out..." Yuusuke held a hand toward the door, indicating that it was possible they could maybe shift the tables and chairs and let him out, but that they would be letting him go on his own. Tanaka San looked back toward Noriko, and the way her eyes were frozen still clearly conveyed that she was not going to follow him out. Tanaka San's shoulder's relaxed slightly. It wasn't so much defeat because no one was going along with his idea, but now feeling clearly that Noriko wasn't someone he was connected to. He no longer had to put on an obligatory show of trying to protect her, so all pretence left his posture.
とりあえず、様子を見るか"Well, let's just wait and see what happens for now," Tanaka San said, and he pulled up a stool from the floor and sat on it without dusting it off first.
Chieko, bandaged up, returned with Ana and Rie to the area where the tables were mostly gathered, along with everyone else. They positioned the tables and chairs so that if they needed to get under them, everyone had a space. Once seated, though, there was no conversation. Ryouji brought a cardboard case of bottled water for everyone, and there were polite exchanges as people thanked him for the water and each other as they handed them out. No conversation emerged out of the civil exchanges though. Everyone was caught in a moment that extended on and on without any decision to break it. At any time their situation could change by forces outside of them that were too big to resist, and there was a need to mentally brace themselves. There was the possibility of trying to take action, to leave, but it was always easier to not do something. It just wasn't the obviously better choice, so the question of whether or not to do something went around and around in their heads. They all had thoughts of families, friends, the rest of their lives that they might not see. Too much was happening inside of each of them for anything to happen between them.
Some looked through their phones, just looking through pictures and previous messages. Even though they had no connection or new information, there was some comfort in remembering the outside world, or looking through all the recent information in hopes of finding some enlightening detail that might offer a clue about what to do. Mari didn't have the luxury of looking at her phone, but it didn't really bother her. All the meditation and prayer her parents made her do never really felt in any way spiritual to her, but she learned an almost infinite patience and ability to inwardly reflect. If there was ever a time for patience and thought, this was it. Everyone in the room could feel it, and the sense of reverence for the quiet fed back on itself.
Rie, Chieko, and Ana didn't speak much to each other, in spite of having been good friends for the last couple of years working at the bank together, and having plenty they might talk about. Sometimes they would speak in hushed tones to share a photo amongst them, remembering good times, but they felt that to be too at ease with each other would be disrespectful to everyone else. Ryouji found a game on his phone that he started playing, a simple puzzle game that involved popping bubbles of similar colour. It wasn't that fun, but it did fill time and keep him from answerless thoughts. Yuusuke saw Ryouji playing, and quietly offered that there might be a game or something on the laptop that Mari could use, but she insisted she was content as she was, so Yuusuke took the laptop instead and played Minesweeper.
It was close to an hour later when finally someone decided to stop killing time waiting for something to change, and do something else. Noriko put her phone on the table, with a slight huff of dissatisfaction, as if she had exhausted any source of comfort her phone might provide. She stood up, and would not have announced anything about her intentions, except that by being the only person moving, she became the default centre of attention.
ちょっと、トイレに行ってきます。"I'm just going to go to the toilet," she said, her voice hushed. Without waiting on anyone's response, she began walking back toward the back of the room.
そっちは危ないんじゃない"Isn't it dangerous back there?" Ana asked.
壁や天井は崩れそうだ"The walls and ceiling are unstable!" Tanaka San said. He got up from his seat and followed Noriko part way, indicating that he might go ahead of her to examine the area for her. She turned and gave a look that halted him.
もういい！すごく注意して行くから。"It's fine! I'll be especially careful." Noriko clearly wanted a little privacy as much she wanted to use the toilet. Tanaka San stopped in the middle of the room. Instead of giving up on Noriko completely, he decided to wait not too far away, just in case something happened and he had to help. Noriko didn't particularly want anyone nearby, but couldn't complain about anyone concerned for her safety, so she continued walking to the back of the room.
The way to the bathroom door wasn't blocked by any debris that Noriko couldn't step over, though her platform heels and tight skirt made it a more delicate process than it might have been for others. She had to brace herself against a wall for balance as she stepped over some larger chunks of concrete. She reached the door which was on the left, leading to an area directly behind the dance floor. She examined the door before touching it, looking to see if there was anything obviously stopping her from opening it. There was nothing there, so she turned the handle and pulled. The door was a little stuck, the frame having shifted a little, so she put one hand on the wall for leverage, and pulled at the door with more force.
ちょっと…"Hey..." Tanaka started to say, but before he could complete his warning about not pushing or pulling on anything too much, the door popped open and there was a moment where Noriko and everyone froze, because it felt like if anything was going to happen, the moment the door opened would be it. Nothing happened though, and everyone relaxed. Noriko peered into the room before stepping in.
どうですか？"How is it?" Rie called out to be heard across the distance. If the bathroom was in good enough condition, and it turned out the plumbing was working, she might want to use it next.
大丈夫かな？壁から格子が外れてるけど、危なくはないみたい。"Seems okay. Looks like a vent has been knocked out of the wall, but it's not too bad." Noriko stepped forward, but stopped just before heading in. Something on the ground caught her eye. At this point the only people looking at her were Tanaka San and Mari, as everyone else had decided that Noriko was capable of handling the situation, and she had wanted some privacy anyway. She knelt down, her tight dress and high heels making it a little awkward, and picked up a yellow canister, the shape of a pill but about the size of a thermos. She turned it over in her hand, and as she did so, Tanaka San and Mari could see that she was holding something, and they could make out the colour. Nothing about it seemed special, except that it wasn't immediately identifiable.
There was a flash, a bang, but most of all everyone in the room felt a pressure wave that made their ears ring. Mari felt blinded as she was looking right at Noriko when the cluster bomb in her hand had gone off. When Mari opened her eyes again, for a moment she worried that she might have actually gone blind, as everything was now dark. She had fallen to the floor, her hands slipping on the rough layer of dust. She was unable to get her bearings and panicked as she scrambled to even determine which way was up. Off to one side she could see the screen of the laptop glowing, and it comforted her to realize that the lights had gone out, not her eyes. At the same time, she could see that it was still on the table, and that helped her orient herself. She couldn't see any of the others, though, and the ringing in her ears made it hard to hear anyone. She clambered up to her feet, using a stool as a crutch.
A hand grabbed her out of the darkness and she screamed as a reflex, though she had no idea how loud she was. A light flickered in front of her, and the motion confused her a first, but when she could make sense of it she saw that it was Yuusuke using the flashlight function on his phone to light his own face so that she could see it was him. The bomb had kicked up a cloud of the dust that was everywhere, so that the beam of light coming from his phone was sharply delineated by heavy particles in the air. It also made it so that the light had less range and effect, but it was sufficient for the moment. Once Yuusuke secured Mari's position by pulling her close, he turned the light on his phone outward to scan for other people in the room. The dust made it impossible to see more than a little over a metre ahead. But there was at least one other light just ahead of them, flickering around, near the floor. Stepping carefully toward that light, they discovered the three women from Aomori. Ana, who had been sitting with her back to Noriko was lying on the floor and seemed unconscious. The other two women were sharing one phone's light between them, their other phones probably lost for the moment. Chieko was holding Ana's head and yelling something, a panicked attempt at trying to wake Ana up or get a response. Rie was scrambling in the darkness, trying to see if Ana was injured anywhere that could be seen.
良治さん？田中さん？"Ryouji? Tanaka?" Mari could hear Yuusuke calling out as the ringing in her ears lowered to a background whistling. Suddenly without warning, Mari found herself being knocked to the ground. For the briefest moment in the light from Yuusuke's phone, she could see it was Tanaka coming out of the haze and directly at her. It didn't seem like he was coming for her, she just happened to be between him and where he wanted to go. In that fraction of a second when he was illuminated, Mari could see that he had blood all over him. Maybe his, maybe Noriko's. His face was contorted with a panic so strong it could be mistaken for rage. He brought Mari down to the ground, and landed on top of her.
…死なねぇぞ…He was yelling "... won't die...!" Did he even know what he was saying? His tone was shrill and awkward, seemingly concussed and babbling incoherently. Mari was on her back and one of her hands was caught between their two bodies, but with the other, she pushed right into his face. She could feel his skin was rough, with gashes possibly caused by shrapnel, and warm blood seeped between her fingers and under her fingernails.
離せ！"Get off her!" Yuusuke yelled, somewhere above her. Suddenly Tanaka San's weight was lifted and Mari could scramble backwards, in the direction she assumed was away from Tanaka. She heard the sounds of Tanaka San stumble and collide with tables and chairs after Yuusuke pushed him away, followed by the screams of the three women as he and the furniture collided with them. Hands grabbed at her in the darkness and Mari screamed again, until she realized that it was Yuusuke trying to help her up, and he was grabbing her in random places because he couldn't see her. She clutched his arms and came to her feet.
Behind them they heard the clattering of furniture moving. Yuusuke fumbled to get his phone oriented so that he could point the flashlight in the direction of the noise. The beam only illuminated a small distance ahead of them, but with a few careful steps together, they found Ryouji, leaning against the pile of tables and chairs blockading the door. He was holding his head, clearly concussed. He might have only just got up. When the light struck him, he squinted back, and nothing about his expression indicated that he knew who he was looking at. Yuusuke realized Ryouji couldn't see them behind the phone's light, so he turned it around.
佑介とマリだ。大丈夫？"It's Yuusuke and Mari. You okay?"
なんとかな。今のはなんだったんだ？"Yeah, maybe. What the fuck just happened?" Ryouji asked. Just then the light went out. Yuusuke looked down, and the flashlight app on the screen of his phone said that the light timed out because of overheating or something. He flipped to a note pad app with a largely white screen, and used that to illuminate the area between the three of them. It was nowhere near as strong as the light, but provided just enough dim glow that they could feel each others presence, and that's what they needed. They huddled closer to talk.
たぶんだけど、紀子は、不発弾を手に取っちゃったんじゃないかな、それが爆発した…"Not sure, but I think Noriko picked up an unexploded bomb or something, and it went off," Mari said.
From somewhere in the room there was a piercing scream. One of the women was screaming in terror. There was shuffling and scraping, indistinguishable sounds of motion. As one woman's voice was screaming, another was yelling.
やめてよ！千恵子！千恵子？"Stop? Chieko! Chieko?"
Then the sound that caused the three listening to feel a distinctly cold sensation, a pure visceral fear, run down their spines. A growl. A low, rumbling growl from a man but not like a human.
やつらは内にいる！"They're inside!" Ryouji said in the breathy voice of someone who wants to shout but needs to stay quiet.